2016 Smart Manufacturing Summit: Solutions Exchange Takeaways and Best Practices

Manufacturing CEOs came together at the Smart Manufacturing Summit to discuss the challenges they face on a daily basis, including recruitment, automation and other systems advancement, such as Internet of Things, Robots and 3D, as well as ways to generate growth, including sales improvement strategies, lean, continuous improvement and more. Here are summary notes from these private meetings.


Voice of the Customer
• Keep logs for “Lost Sales” and “Trends” to monitor problems customers identify. Review once a month to glean for actionable corrections.
• Focus on customers’ problems rather than asking them what they “want”. Solving tangible problems is the surest way to prove your value. Yet, it is still important to find out what their customers perceive they do want.
• Close the gap and eliminate filters between sales and engineers. By identifying lead users, several leaders talked about how they arrange for customer interactions/trips with both sales and engineers. Th is allows team members to hear their customers’ problems first-hand.
• Remember the importance of getting ideas and feedback from all “stakeholders”, not just direct customers. Everyone with a stake in the company may have valuable ideas/insights.
• Bring customers to headquarters. One leader shared how his company often paid for trips to visit their company. This investment in creating a shared collaborative relationship with the customer was working well for everyone.
• Be a good, deep listener during interactions with customers.
These efforts pay off well in relationships built on trust.

Solving Customer Problems
• Remember the continuum of innovation—incremental changes on one end and revolutionary change on the other.
• Identify multiple areas that need innovation. One leader shared his firm’s commitment to looking at innovation in 10 diff erent areas of their business. They included: business models, customer experiences, processes, etc.
• Collaboratively work with customers on product designs.

One firm shared their process:

1. Quick rendering & feedback,
2. Create mini-product (scaled-down version) for final review, changes. Th is cut their cycle down from 4 weeks to ~3 days.
• Bring your customer into the process early. This collaboration helps with their buy-in and approval process.
• Be creative with tooling process. One successful leader struggled with how to reduce tooling delays. They manufacture a product with a 6-month lead time due to casting requirements. They now create a 3D mockup prior to casting and develop their tooling and CNC programs in parallel. They exploit technology to dramatically reduce the cycle time.

Open Sourcing
• Recognize the “trickiness” of dealing with Intellectual Property. You must be flexible and creative in finding win/win solutions.
• Commit to “Co-Location”. This can be very beneficial and lead to successful partnerships. Typically, the university brings the corporations onto campus, and provides space/research in exchange for % of royalties.
• Research the administration’s attitude toward “open source” projects. One progressive university president tells his team “Make it work.” This approach requires flexibility on everyone’s
• Consider the pros and cons of a formal research project vs. a “reward-based” project. Sometimes the reward-based projects are less cumbersome as they involve both students and faculty without having a formal royalty arrangement.
• Explore the possibility of jointly funded research projects with multiple competitors. For very large and expensive projects with potentially huge rewards for breakthroughs, some projects involve and receive funding from competitors.

This “consortium” model can be very complex, especially in the early set-up stages. Yet the rewards can be very significant. The National Science Foundation has successfully used this
collaborative model.

New Product Development Process
• Use a Phase Gate Process. Th is provides a disciplined, structured approach.
• Keep a “commercialization” focus. Continue to ask “How can we make money from this, now or in the future?
• Develop solid metrics, including a robust filtering process.
• Aim for a “Pull” mentality vs. a “Push” approach.
• Develop a solid prioritization process based on your business plan and strategies.
• Use Gross Margin as your key metric.
• Open the new product development process to all employees.

One company created an “Idea Tracker” form to solicit ideas from their team.
• Remember the importance of clearly communicating your company’s vision/mission. Remind your stakeholders “Why we exist”.

Facilitator: John Storm, President, BrainStorm Network, LLC

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